Thursday, February 23, 2006

Love in the Ruins

One of Walker Percy's best. And in post-Katrina New Orleans where I'm now living, one of the most appropriate, believe me! The story takes place in New Orleans, in a time facing the apocalypse. For those who haven't read it, please do. And read it together with Benedict's new Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (which can be printed from the Vatican website, or , if you prefer it in book form, you can click on the Daughters of St. Paul link. )

I went to a talk this past week, which still has me thinking and going back to these two sources for more. It was given by Christopher Baglow, and he did a fascinating job of interweaving Walker Percy's novel with Benedict's encyclical....and the post-Katrina situation in which we find oursleves. Giving a summary of it really wouldn't do it justice, so as soon as he e-mails the text to me, I'll pass it on to you. It's worth reading, and will have you picking up Love in the Ruins and God is Love. Just by the way, for those intimidated by papal encyclicals, dont be. You'll love it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Watcha reading?

Right now? A book by Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans. I was putting away books in from a new shipment and was ready to shelve this one, when something caught my eye. According to Kreeft, his book is an "edited, outlined, and explained" version of Pascal's Pensees. Truth be told, I only have a very casusal acquaintance with Blaise Pascal and haven't read his Pensees completely....just some very good quotes here and I thought Peter Kreeft's book was worth a second look. More than just a look- actually, I found it so engaging that I'm half way through it and really enjoying it. Since I took a very helpful suggestion and got myself a copy of Sophie's World, these two titles go hand in hand. Anyhow, an interesting point from the introduction mentions that Pascal had a huge personal library but at the end of his very short life (he died in his thirties) the only two books he possessed were the Bible and the Confessions of St. Augustine. I love when I find books inside of books! Like Blaise Pascal reading Augustine, or C.S. Lewis reading Charles Williams, or Dorothy Day reading Dostoyevsky. Know of any others?

Friday, February 10, 2006

"I found these nuns!"

Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time. Once we made the connection between the "saints" of our books and the saints-in-Sacred-Heart-Church, it didn't take us long to figure out the rest. We admired these saints, these larger-than-life people, but the main reason we felt such an attraction to them was they were all our age! It might have been coincidence, but more likely Providence, that every one so far had been in the 12-15 age bracket. Bernadette, Maria Goretti, Joan of Arc, Agnes, Cecilia, (the one exception being Mary Magdalene). It's hard to describe what kind of impact this discovery had for us at that age. Explosive, definitely. Because the next obvious step for us was to want what they had and to be part of the Church they belonged to.
For Christine, it proved much easier than she expected. When she announced her intention to take instructions at Sacred Heart Church, her mother confessed that technically, she already was Catholic, having been baptized as an infant. Her mother had "fallen away" from the Church soon after and just never went back. As far as Christine remembered, they had always been Protestant, so this was great news. Me, on the other hand! Well, let's just say it was equivalent to saying I wanted to be Buddhist. Didn't go over well at all.
But I'm getting ahead of the story.

One day, Chris tells me that she was looking through some old issues of Catholic Digest and she found this postage-size ad for a Catholic bookstore in Philly and would I like to go? And on top of that, the book store was run by nuns (another of our new interests!). She assured me that I didn't need money, since after all, it was a nun's bookstore...and she was sooooo lucky her Mom came with us and loaned me the money I didn't bring along! It was a treasure house of all the books we were looking for. And the nuns were as interesting as the books. They looked at two 13 year olds asking for books on saints and asked the question that probably every nun would ask in those circumstances, "Did you ever think of being a sister?" Christine said sure. I did a double-take because even though I was her best friend, this was news to me! But not wanting to leave me out, the sister asked me the same question. "So, have you ever thought about being a sister?" "I haven't really given it much thought, but it sounds good. But I'm not Catholic...does that matter?" Have to give her credit. She didn't skip a beat, just handed me a catechism and said she would write to me. The rest is history!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

No more good books!

I admit, this is an unreasonable fear, but it is one I felt strongly when I was 13.

Here's how it happened. Christine and I (both of us Protestant, by the way) made a huge discovery the summer of seventh grade.

I told her I had found this terrific book in the Junior High library, The Scarlet Lily ( a novel about St. Mary Magdalene), and she shared her great find at the public library, The Song of Bernadette. We swapped books and then went to hunt for more. After scouring the dewey decimal system for anything with "St." the only books we came up with were The Penitent (the story of Maria Goretti), a life of Joan of Arc, and an old title by Frances Parkinson Keyes called The Three Ways of Love. That was it! We were both convinced we had exhausted all the good books in the world. Couldn't figure out exactly who these people were with St. prefix, but our local libraries had no more to offer and we were dying for more!

Because of this we made a second discovery. While we were church-hopping (a summer pastime, visiting churches open during the day and looking around) we found that Sacred Heart Church across the street from where I lived had the most interesting things to look at, but the really surprising thing was they had stained-glass windows of the people we had read about in the books. There was a huge Maria Goretti up by the choir loft, Mary Magdalene over by the confessionals, and Bernadette in all her glory in the Madonna chapel. Somehow, all these fascinating people belonged to Sacred Heart Church. Made sense to us.

More later. We did find other books, by the way, and we hadn't exhausted all the good books in the world. Thank God.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

my fiction list

this list is by no means exhaustive, so I could use some help. what titles are missing that you feel reflect a Catholic worldview?

Death Comes for the Archbishop (Cather)
The Man Who Was Thursday (Chesterton)
Father Brown - The Essential Tales (Chesterton)
Mr. Blue (Connolly)
Keys of the Kingdom (Cronin)
The Divine Comedy (Dante)
The Spear (novel of the Crucifixion) (de Wohl)
Restless Flame (St. Augustine) (de Wohl)
Citadel of God (St. Benedict) (de Wohl)
Lay Seige to Heaven (St. Catherine of Siena) (de Wohl)
Joyful Beggar (St. Francis of Assisi) (de Wohl)
Set All Afire (St. Francis Xavier) (de Wohl)
Quiet Light (St. Thomas Aquinas) (de Wohl)
Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky)
The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoyevsky)
Murder in the Cathedral (Eliot)
Brother Cadfael Mysteries (Ellis)
In this House of Brede (Godden)
End of the Affair (Greene)
The Power and the Glory (Greene)
The Heart of the Matter (Greene)
Les Miserables (Hugo)
Till We Have Faces (Lewis)
Scewtape Letteres (Lewis)
Great Divorce (Lewis)
Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis)
Space Triology (Lewis)
Pilgrims Regress (Lewis)
Lilith (Macdonald)
The Betrothed (Manzoni)
A Canticle of Leibowitz (Miller)
Collected Works of Flannery O'Connor (O'Connor)
The Edge of Sadness (O'Connor, Edwin)
Lancelot (Percy)
The Moviegoer (Percy)
The Last Gentleman (Percy)
Lost in the Cosmos (Percy)
Love in the Ruins (Percy)
Message in the Bottle (Percy)
Second Coming (Percy)
Signposts in a Strange Land (Percy)
Thanatos Syndrome (Percy)
Our Lady of the Lost and Found (Schoemperlen)
Lord of the Rings (Tolkien)
Joan of Arc (Twain)
Kristin Lavransdatter (Undset)
Master of Hestviken (Undset)
Grace Will Lead Me Home (Valentine)
A Miracle for St. Cecilia's (Valentine)
A Gathering of Angels (Valentine)
Ben Hur (Wallace)
Helena (Waugh)
Brideshead Revisited (Waugh)
Shoes of the Fisherman (West)
War in Heaven (Williams)
Descent into Hell (Williams)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

1969: my memorable year

I've always loved books, and just yesterday I was thinking about it how it all started.

When I was growing up I spent most of my Saturdays in the public library (the most entertaining thing to do where I lived) , but I think I really, really got my interest in books thanks to my 6th grade teacher, Mrs McQuate. Oh, and the reason I could never forget the year of 6th grade was her habit of banging a huge glass paperweight on the file cabinet next to her desk, loudly proclaiming to us that "this is not the stone-age, people...this is 1969!" Her wild hair reminded you of a feminine Beethoven...funny what you remember.

Well, anyway, 6th grade started out with the announcement that we would be making weekly trips to the library on the 2nd floor of the school and we would also have to give weekly book reports. Since I already spent most of my free time in the library, I thought I would really enjoy this. Then she took us to the hall closet where we hang our coats and boots. It was long and skinny and way in the back she had shelves of books (her books) which she then proceeded to pass out to each of the students. For keeps.

My new best friend, Christine, was handed Uncle Tom's Cabin (or something equally chubby and challenging), and a few of the other girls were given copies of Little Women, Jane Eyre, Don Quixote (you get the picture, right?) So she finally gets to me and she hands me a book called Manuela's First Birthday. Maybe it was a children's classic or something, but my 6th grade self looked at it in shock. The inside of it reminded me of a first grade reader. And to add insult to injury, I had to give a book report on it!

So for our first trip to the library, I wasn't even looking for a specific title, I just made a bee-line for the fattest book on the shelf and it turned out to be the life of Beethoven. My mother just turned 70 this year and she still remembers the day I brought that book home. Every week for the rest of the school year we made our library trips and book reports, and although it was instigated by humiliation and hurt pride, I'm still grateful to Mrs. McQuate and Manuela's First Birthday for getting me started in my life-long love of reading.

So what's your "breakthrough" book experience?